How To Find The Best Contractor For Your Home Remodel

Choosing the right contractor is a critical milestone in your remodeling project. But how can you, the homeowner, be sure you’re hiring the right person? Here are our guidelines for navigating the process

1) Figure out exactly who you need to hire for your project. If you’re doing a smaller job – just carpentry or just electrical – then you only need to find a tradesman. But if you’re doing anything that involves multiple aspects with multiple trades such as plumbing and painting – like, say, a kitchen or bathroom remodel – then you need a general contractor. Plus, if you have heavy design or a high dollar value involved, then you should consider also hiring an architect.

2) Do your homework. If you’re like most people embarking on a home remodel, you’re going to start asking around for contractor recommendations. Stick to friends, family, and people that you trust – and remember, just because they had a great experience doesn’t mean you will too (your project is a different one, after all). When/if you head to the Web, check out sites including the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and the Better Business Bureau. Both have contractor databases that tell you whether they’re licensed, whether there are any outstanding complaints against them, etc. But keep this in mind throughout your search: there’s only one person qualified to tell you if a contractor is technically competent – and that’s an architect. So use registered architects as a source for contractors.

A good contractor will have technical competence, good management skills, and financial strength in his/her business. He or she will stand by their word and their contract, and deliver the project as promised even if (when) things go wrong.

3) Check his/her credentials. A good contractor will have technical competence, good management skills, and financial strength in his/her business. He or she will stand by their word and their contract, and deliver the project as promised even if (when) things go wrong. It would be great if these factors were all assessed for you by a system determining the risk of hiring each contractor (especially considering there’s a 1 in 30 chance that your contractor will go bust during your project). And that’s precisely what Bolster does – assess financial risk. How? Contractors have to fill out documents (picture a mortgage application) that allow an insurance company to conduct a financial review of the contractor’s business, and thereby establish how much risk is associated with the contractor, to then underwrite them. With Bolster, you’re getting a service that has already done due diligence on the contractor, so you can rest assured they have strong financials when you sign a contract.

4) Communicate your vision to the contractors before you get their bids. The key here is continuity, to ensure that the bids you get are easily comparable. If you’re bringing in 2 or 3 (or more) contractors to bid, put together a scope of work for the project that you give to each one (the best way to do this: walk around the house and write down what you want, and find comparable pictures from magazines or websites and include them). Put your budget range and a material spec sheet in there as well, including the appliances, lighting, cabinetry, and any other details. Do a chart for each room – write out the tasks (install, remove, finish, paint) and the products you want. Adding a floor plan is always helpful. NOTE: If you don’t do a spec sheet, then your contractor will do one, and you’ll be handing over control over the details.

If you’re bringing in 2 or 3 (or more) contractors to bid, put together a scope of work for the project that you give to each one (the best way to do this: walk around the house and write down what you want, and find comparable pictures from magazines or websites and include them).

5) Do a walk-through with each contractor you’re considering.Schedule a meeting face-to-face in your home to review the project, and the scope of work you created. This is a key time to determine whether you’re on the same page about your vision, and to let it all sink in for both you and the contractor. Pro tip: don’t invite more than one contractor to your home at the same time. Both will either be more timid, or end up arguing over what the project should entail. Instead, take a lengthy walk-through with each contractor individually, listen to what he or she has to say, and take notes – and then add them to your plan. In the end, send out your updated plan to the contractors you met with, and in return you should get smart responses.

Pro tip: don’t invite more than one contractor to your home at the same time. Both will either be more timid, or end up arguing over what the project should entail.

6) Make sure the contractor you choose has the right insurances.Checking for Workers Compensation Insurance and General Liability Insurance should be part of the “credentials check” described above – but it can never hurt to double check once you make a hire.

The 5 Biggest Warning Signs of a Bad Contractor

1) If a contractor asks for a cash-only deposit

2) If he tries to charge you for a proposal

3) If he asks you to submit permits, rather than doing it himself

4) If he turns up unannounced at your door and offers a bid for work (“I was just in the neighborhood and noticed your windows weren’t double-glazed…”)

5) If he doesn’t have a license – he must be a registered contractor, or else you have no recourse if the project goes bust/the contractor goes under during the project

The Most Important Questions To Ask a Contractor

1) How many projects do you have going on? (Zero = no good, 10 = too many/spread too thin)

2) How long have you been in business?

3) Are you going to be managing the project? If not you, then who? Do you have a foreman?

4) Can I see references? (These should consist of: projects that they’re doing now, customers they have now, architects, and subcontractors/suppliers that the contractor has worked with, to ask if they get paid on time).

5) Are you willing to guarantee your performance by posting a performance and payment bond with a surety provider? This is perhaps only necessary for larger projects over $20,000 and will help weed out financially unstable and disreputable contractors.